First Hardwater Action
Merry Fishmas to All!
This is always an uneasy time of the year for avid local anglers, a band of which I belong. The Maggie Leigh has been winterized and is up on blocks in the garage. Open water opportunities will be limited or nonexistent for several months, save for a winter trip down south. Finding safe ice to fish on, particularly in Door County, is a waiting game. The larger bodies of water, Lake Michigan and Green Bay, take a long time to develop a safe layer of ice and parts of the lake never do. I could offer a quick lecture about the specific heat capacity of water, thermal conduction and radiation, but I will spare you the high school science lesson. Suffice it to say that most of Green Bay will not be fishable until mid-January, if then. That leaves the shallower bays and inland lakes when looking for early season ice angling in Door County.
Last week I took a quick survey of the bay side ice conditions on my way to the Fox Valley. As of Thursday afternoon, there was no fishing activity near Sturgeon Bay. The bays south of Sturgeon Bay, Sand Bay, Rileys Bay and Little Sturgeon Bay, were covered with ice but the only place I observed any fishing activity was at the very back end of Little Sturgeon. There were quite a few portable shacks and people fishing there. Of course, ice safety should always be the foremost consideration for any ice angler. Generally, you need 3-4 inches of good solid ice to safely walk on and 5-7 inches to drive an ATV or snowmobile on the ice. You need a good foot or more before you want to put your pickup truck at risk. Here is a good set of guidelines from the Minnesota DNR on ice safety (they know a lot about ice in Minny Soda) along with other useful ice information. Since my trip to the south end of the county, I have heard that there is some fishing activity off of Dykesville, but I am sure the recent warm weather has not improved the ice conditions.
The reason for my trip to the Valley was to join fishing buddy Ed for an early season outing on Lake Winnebago. I figured if the ice won’t come to me, I’d have to go to the ice. Reports of fishable ice on ‘Bago, Lake Poygan, and the Wolf River bayous encouraged me to take the trip. A good source of regional ice conditions and fishing reports is the Lake-Link Wisconsin Fishing Reports. I am often skeptical of the fishing action reported on this site, but the real time reports of ice conditions are usually accurate. Lake Winnebago was a regular haunt for me when I lived in Appleton and I was looking forward to renewing my relationship with that legendary sheet of ice-covered water. We started out at a very familiar location, Asylum Bay, just north of Oshkosh on the west side of the lake. This is a shallow protected bay and offers some of the earliest ice angling opportunities of the season. As we drove to the Lighthouse Point parking area near the blue DNR buildings, we could see that a lot of anxious anglers were already out on the ice. The parking lot was filled and there were hundreds of anglers in portable shacks and sitting on buckets dangling baits beneath the ice. This is not a secret spot. Ed and I made our way out onto the surface of the ice dragging our sleds along a well-worn trail. I always feel more comfortable walking on previously traveled ice. We set up among the group of anglers in about 5-6FOW. An hour or so produced no fish and we could not see much action from the surrounding anglers. We decided to make a move into the shallower reaches of the bay, an area that I have had success in the distant past. We drilled some holes in a patch of ice devoid of other anglers. We immediately spotted fish on the sonar and I soon had a small perch flopping on the ice. We were using small ice jigs tipped with wax worms. Over the next hour we garnered nearly twenty of the black and yellow striped fish. Most were small, but we managed to sort out four that would be suitable as table fare. Not exactly the “hot action” I was hoping for, but it was a nice sunny day and I was enjoying the fresh air and the company of my fellow anglers. Ed and I eventually moved on to another local spot near the Winnebago County Boat landing between Oshkosh and Neenah. We were hoping to find some bigger perch and maybe a walleye as the mid-winter sun drew near to the southwest horizon. There were other groups of anglers nearby with similar aspirations. Ed managed one nice perch, the largest of the day, but as we walked off the ice in the fading light, we had to settle for a meager bag of five Winnebago perch. They were delicious, by the way.
Those perch looked a lot bigger to me after my first outing on Kangaroo Lake yesterday. There was about 6-7 inches of good solid ice on the lake north of the County Highway E causeway, so I confidently moved my portable shack onto the surface of the lake. I set up a couple of tip ups with golden shiners in anticipation of tangling with some of the numerous northern pike that inhabit The ‘Roo. Oh, by the way, I had to drive to Howie’s Tackle in Sturgeon Bay for the shiners. As of Monday, Baileys 57 in Baileys Harbor was not stocking minnows or other ice fishing bait (waxies, spikes, etc), but the manager Carey assured me that they would be getting some within the week. They should have an assortment of minnows in the outside cooler and bait inside the rest of the winter.
After I had my two Polar Tips ups all set among the reeds, I moved my shack over a hole, positioning it so I could keep close watch on the tip ups. I then started to work a jig/waxie combo under the ice at my feet to keep myself occupied waiting for “flags” to start flying. Well, the flags never flew, but I did catch a couple of dozen of the smallest perch one could possibly catch without a fine mesh net. I could not believe how the hook even fit into mouths that small. When a school of these mini-fish came through, you would catch one right after another as fast as you could get your lure back down into the water. I also caught the cutest little bluegill. They all were returned to the lake. To be honest, this has been typical of my ice fishing experience on Kangaroo. There are a lot of small fish in the lake. Over the years, I have caught some nice bass, northerns, walleyes and even trout in ‘Roo, but generally my ice fishing efforts have produced only a lot of stunted panfish and the occasional “snake” pike. Kangaroo Lake has a lot of potential to produce good angling action and a group of local activists are trying to improve the fishing habitat to unleash that potential. The Fish Sticks program organized by the Kangaroo Lake Association has been working for five years to add cover and generally improve the conditions for fish survival in the lake. The group is continuing these effort this winter with an outing on February 15th. If you would like to find out how you can help, you can contact Tom Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org. I plan on being there on the 15th
So, my initial ice fishing forays of the season have been less than spectacular. I will keep trying the ‘Roo and I may take a trip to Clark Lake if the ice conditions hold. Clark has produced some pike and walleyes for me in the past. All of this, of course, is just a prelude to the opportunity to get out on the bay and target whitefish. For me, that is when the ice fishing season really begins in Door County.
To all of you (or maybe the few of you) who take the time to read these reports, thank you. I hope they prove useful and make your fishing experiences more interesting if not more productive. From myself, my family, Pamela Ann (the wife) and The Maggie Leigh (the boat), we wish you all a very joyous Holiday Season, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and, of course a VERY MERRY FISHMAS.
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